How Many Seconds of Two Minutes Are You?

Study Finds Time Passes More Quickly As We Get Older

The other day, my wife and I were at a restaurant celebrating our daughter-in-law’s birthday — her 30th birthday, that is. Turning thirty is one of those milestones in life that can remind people that they are not ‘young’ anymore. Not so with our son’s wife. Leaving her roaring twenties behind did not faze her in the least. But it hit me with a little bit of a shock. As singing waiters served a cupcake with one candle, I suddenly realized that the older person sitting across the table from the birthday girl was really me, and not one of her twenty- or thirty-something friends. I don’t know exactly why this was a big deal to me. I’m in a good place in my life with a wonderful wife and a beautiful home on the shores of a peaceful lake. But as my daughter-in-law blew out the candle, I clearly remembered my 30th birthday as if it had happened yesterday, where I was living at the time, and where I worked.

If you think time goes by faster as you get older, you are not alone. Think about where you where 15 or 20 years ago. Those memories are pretty clear, aren’t they? The years have really flown by, haven’t they? Why is that?

There is no clear answer.

But to try and understand what’s going on, scientists from the Sao Jose Faculty of Medicine in Brazil asked a group of 233 people to take part in a study.

Their work appears online in the journal Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria.

Both men and women between the ages of 15 and 89 were divided into different age groups and asked to close their eyes for 120 seconds. Afterwards, all 233 people felt that the two minutes passed more quickly that it actually did. But here’s the fascinating part: the findings varied by age.

On average, the youngest people, the under-29 group, counted down the 120 seconds in 115 seconds. The 30 to 49 group took 96 seconds. However the over-50 group took just 86 seconds. This means the oldest group (Hey, old timers, I’m talking about us!) judged time as passing 25 percent more quickly than the youngest group.

Why exactly is that?

In turns out, the phenomenon could be the result of age-related changes in levels of brain chemicals key for concentration and memory, both of which are involved in estimating the flow of time. Or, the Brazilian researchers claim, it could be that time speeds up as we get older because we spend less time acquiring new skills and become bored with routine tasks. “The time it takes to learn something new is always subjectively prolonged, such as the first sexual relationship, the first job, the first trip without parents or the first experience of living away from home,” the researchers said.

That makes sense to me. I remember when I first met my wife. Everything was new and I have many wonderful memories. We seemed to date a long time, and it’s easy to recall the many things we did together. But we really only dated about one year before we married! The same is true with our children: The first years were full of new adventures and went by slowly. Then the next twenty-five years flew by in a blur.

Others believe time passes more quickly as we age simply because we want to make the best use of what time we have left. Our race against the clock to get more done (even the simple task of counting seconds), our need to cram as much into each hour as humanly possible — like answering text messages and eating lunch while attending a meeting — causes life to speed up.

Whatever the reason, it’s obvious to most of us that time flies as we get older. At the restaurant, as I looked back to my 30th birthday, I realized what a ride the years have been. Little did I know that a career choice would take me to Chicago where I would meet my wife. That we would have two handsome sons. I remember in vivid detail our first several Christmases together as a family, but now they rush by year after year in the bat of an eye.

I wrote a story here on Thrive Global last week about how scientists say they’ll soon extend the human lifespan to 125. Interestingly, there’s a Cambridge scholar who believes someone living today will make it to age 1,000. I know what you’re thinking: That guy is off his rocker!

Perhaps. But he’s onto something, right? You betcha. Living longer is definitely something to be hoped for.

But instead of waiting for some almighty scientist to make death optional, those of us who tend to be impatient should stop for a minute and take a deep breath, and remind ourselves of something very important: Use what time we have left wisely.

As someone who doesn’t consider himself “senior” even though I’m in that age category, I have to admit that I often feel that there are not enough hours in a day (even a very long one) to get everything done. If researchers asked me to close my eyes and count down 120 seconds, I’d probably do it pretty darn fast. How would you do?

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